Vulture City Ghost Town: Back From the Dead

Vulture City Ghost Town: Back From the Dead

Posted by Keith Peters on Aug 8th 2023

Head Frame and Vulture Peak

Head Frame and Vulture Peak

The Vulture City Ghost Town is the remains of a thriving town built to support Arizona’s most productive gold mine.

The Vulture Mine began in 1863 when Henry Wickenburg, a California gold rush prospector, discovered a quartz outcropping containing gold in Maricopa County in Arizona. Henry’s find resulted in the Vulture Mine becoming Arizona’s most productive gold mine, producing 340,000 ounces of gold and 260,000 ounces of silver between 1863 and 1942.

The Town is Born

As the mine expanded, so did the number of miners and families in the area, and it became clear that there was a need to support this increasing population. In 1868, the miners convinced the mine management to invest in a town; by 1880, the town was home to 5,000 citizens.

The southwest section of Vulture City was the heart of the mining operations. Buildings here included structures to support the mine operation, such as a large Assay and gold storage building, a mess hall, mill buildings, a blacksmith shop, a post office, and a brothel. The northeast section consisted of family homes and a school.

Over the years, the mine operated in various stages. The mine ran full operations from 1866 to 1887, then closed in 1888. It reopened in 1910 and, closed again in 1917, opened one more time from 1931 until 1942.


In 1942, the US government focused on producing war materials such as copper, iron, and other metals. Gold mines were regarded as ‘non-essential’ as they did not produce the minerals needed, and most were shuttered. This mandate resulted in Vulture Mine closing for the last time and the town being abandoned.


When we first visited Vulture City in 2010, the town and mine covered 680 acres. At that time, the property was owned by a husband and wife who lived on-site. We arranged to visit the town and camp overnight. As we headed into town, the owner said, “Enter the buildings at your own risk, watch out for rattlesnakes, and try not to fall into the mine shafts,” making this an authentic ghost town experience.

With the caretaker’s warning echoing in our heads, we eagerly headed into the heart of town. Most buildings had collapsed, but a few were still standing, including a Machine Shop, Brothel, Mess Hall, and Assay Building.

Old Cars Behind Machine Shop

The large open-air dining area of the mess hall had collapsed; however, the kitchen section was still standing and housed this amazing dual oven cast iron cook stove.

The Brothel was still standing as well. This single-story building sports a large wrap-around porch, a parlor, a kitchen, and bedrooms. Each room was sparsely furnished with early 1900s decor.

Assay Building

Assay Building

The most prominent building at the town site is the Assay building. Built using wood and rocks from the mine tailings, gives this building a distinctive look. The southwest wall of the building had collapsed, a vertical support had burst through the roof, and the entire roof line was sagging. It was a good representation of the state of the structures in town.

Entering the building, you have an unobstructed view of other mine operation buildings through the collapsed wall. Making our way through the building, we found a staircase leading up. I gingerly climbed the stairs, ensuring each step would hold my weight. Reaching the top of the stairs, I attempted to enter the room; the entire floor sagged several inches, ending our exploration of this part of the building.

Walking west from the town site, we encountered a large building perched on a hill housing this massive diesel engine.

This engine provided electricity for the mine. We found large concrete piers that supported the equipment in a second building, which appears to have housed ore processing equipment. We could not investigate more of this building as in the middle of the room was a roof beam with large nails protruding from the ends suspended at head level on a cable. This beam is flailing around the room, pushed by the wind rushing in from a large hole in the north wall as if to tell us that we should not enter. We got the message and turned back toward town.

Continuing our tour, we found two one-room schoolhouses with a large slide, swings, and teeter-tooter, standing alone on the northeast outskirts of town.

In 2010, a large open area was next to the schoolhouses, making this the perfect place to set up camp. Situated in the Sonoran desert behind Vulture Peak and without power, the town has amazing star-filled skies.

Ghosts Are Not Just in Its Name

We finished dinner and were enjoying the stars when we noticed lights moving around next to the schoolhouses. We could see several figures moving about in the darkness, coming ever closer to our location.

As they moved closer to us, a voice called out that they were a local paranormal club investigating the ghost stories of Vulture City.

Vulture City is said to be one of the most haunted places in Arizona. This title has drawn many ghost hunters, such as Ghost Adventures, the Ghost Brothers, and many more. Most mining towns have their own ghost stories, as hard rock mining was hazardous, deaths within these mines were not uncommon, and Vulture Mine also has several documented mine deaths. However, Vulture City is different in two ways. Most of the ghost stories relate to the many schoolchildren who perished due to influenza and the infamous Hanging Tree. The Hanging Tree is a large ironwood tree standing just south of the Assay Building, and the stories go that 18 men were hanged from this tree for “High-grading” (stealing gold from the mine). With their hangings being performed in the middle of town, the mining company was clearly sending a message to the rest of the miners.

I am happy to report that we did not see any other ghostly activity overnight besides engaging with the paranormal club. 

The following day we were up early and had the town to ourselves. As we walked the site, the sun rose over the Sonoran Desert, bringing a glow to the many Saguaro Catus surrounding the town. A slight breeze was whispering through the broken windows of the brothel, and somewhere in town, a door was creaking in the breeze. These sounds added to the eerie ambiance of this place, but somehow this completed our ghost town experience. The two days we spent at Vulture City are forever cemented in our memories.


In 2014 Vulture Peak Holdings LLC purchased the property and the mining claim to restart the gold mining operations. Rather than reopening the old hard rock shafts, the new mining company is taking a pit mining approach. This approach required removing all surface obstacles, including the town and its buildings.

The fear of losing the ghost town and its rich history was more than the local community would permit. A grassroots effort created a 501C (The Vulture City Preservation Inc.) to save the town. After some negation with the mining company, The Vulture City Preservation Inc group purchased the townsite.

Mining Property outlined in Red, Townsite in green, and School House yellow pin 


In 2016 Vulture Peak Tours purchased the townsite to preserve the town and offer tours to the public. After Vulture Peak Tours secured the townsite, changes came quickly, focusing on stabilization and saving as much of the town and original mining equipment as possible.


With the news of all the changes, we decided to revisit and check out the differences.

The town site is well maintained. Gone is the worry of snakes. A platform was built over the open shaft, allowing you to peer into the old mine. Many of the old buildings are now stable and safe to explore, combined with several restored buildings. The Vulture Peak Tours team did a fantastic job of saving these old buildings while maintaining the original ghost town feel. 

Assay Building

The best example of their work is the Assay Building. The southwestern wall has been rebuilt, and the building is now structurally sound.

Entering the assay office, you see the laboratory equipment required to determine the quality of mine ore samples, arranged just as they were the day the mine closed, leaving you with the feeling the staff has just stepped out on a break.

Assay Office, Gold Bouyon Guards Living Quarters

The second section of the building housed the bouyon storage room and guard house. Here the processed gold and silver were stored until they could be transported off-site. To ensure the gold stayed where it belonged, it was under guard 24 hours a day. To support this, the guards lived only feet away.

Headframe - Vulture City - Arizona

Headframe - Vulture City - Arizona

The mining headframe is back, and the machine shop has been relocated.  They even moved the large diesel generator to the town site. 

Most days, Vulture City Ghost Town is open to the public so that you can see this remarkable place.

Standing Alone

Not all of the buildings are seeing the benefits of the preservation efforts. Unfortunately, the schoolhouse is on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. As it is on BLM land, Vulture Peak Tours has not been permitted to preserve it. The school building is still standing, but time is taking its toll. Also, the desert has overtaken the seesaw; however, the slide and the swings remain.

I took this photograph below to compare it to the photo taken in 2010. However, something else caught my eye.

As you can see, the swings are in good shape, and the ground under them is clear of any plants. I cannot explain this. Are the ghosts of the children that attended this school still coming out to play?

Getting To The Townsite

Address: 36610 355th Ave Wickenburg, AZ 85390

  • From the West (Phoenix) or South via US 93), head toward the town of Wickenburg. At the intersection of US 60 (Wickenburg Way) and Vulture Mine Road, turn South onto Vulture Mine Road (near the Safeway Shopping Center) and travel 12 miles to the mine entrance on the North (right) side of the Vulture Mine Road. The entry is ½ mile after mile marker 15.
  • Heading east on Highway 10, take the exit to N 339th Ave/Hassayampa Road. Follow N. 339th Ave/Hassayampa Road for 2 miles, then turn left onto Indian School Road. Take Indian School Road for 3.7 miles, then turn right onto N. 355th Ave. In 13 miles, turn right onto Vulture Mine Road and then turn left into Vulture City in approximately 10 miles.

Finding the Schoolhouse

As the mine is now in full operation, the mining company has erected dirt berms along its property lines. Not too surprising as it is a gold mine, after all. These berms have cut off the direct approach from the town. Now you have to take a roundabout approach (see the yellow route on the map). 

From Vulture City, head north on Vulture Mine Road and look for a dirt road on your left. This road should take you to the old landing strip. From there, take the second major left until you reach another large road, then take another left and go straight until you see the school. GPS: 33.82125, -112.83065

Thanks to the efforts of Vulture City Preservation Inc and Vulture Peak Tours, this fantastic example of Arizona’s rich mining history is being preserved. 

If you are like me and love ghost towns, or you like ghost stories, Vulture City is a must-see.